Poaching CCIEs


During the CCIE Netvet Reception at Cisco Live 2013, a curious question came up during our Q&A session with CEO John Chambers. Paul Borghese asked if it was time for the partner restriction on CCIE tenure to be lifted in order to increase the value of a CCIE in the larger market. For those not familiar, when a CCIE is hired by a Cisco partner, they need to attach their number to the company in order for the company to receive the benefits of having hired a CCIE. Right now, that means counting toward the CCIE threshold for Silver and Gold status. When a CCIE leaves the the first company and moves to another partner their number stays associated with the original company for one year and cannot be counted with the new company until the expiration of that year.

There are a multitude of reasons why that might be the case. It encourages companies to pay for CCIE training and certification if the company knows that the newly-minted CCIE will be sticking around for at least a year past their departure. It also provides a lifeline to a Cisco partner in the event a CCIE decides to move on. By keeping the number attached to the company for a specific time period, the original company has the time necessary to hire or train new resources to take over for the departed CCIE’s job role. If the original partner is up for any contracts or RFPs that require a CCIE on staff, that grace period could be the difference between picking up or losing that contract.

As indicated above, Paul asked if maybe that policy needed to change. In his mind, the restriction of the CCIE number was causing CCIEs to stay at their current companies because their inability to move their number to the new company in a timely manner made them less valuable. I know now that the question came on behalf of Eman Conde, the CCIE Agent, who is very active in making sure the rights and privileges of CCIEs everywhere are well represented. I remember meeting Eman for the first time back at Cisco Live 2008 at an IPExpert party, long before I was a CCIE. In that time, Eman has worked very hard to make sure that CCIEs are well represented in the job market.  It is also in Eman’s best interests to ensure that CCIEs can move freely between companies without restriction.

My biggest fear is that removing the one-year association restriction for Cisco Partners will cause partners to stop funding CCIE development.  I was very fortunate to have my employer pay the entire cost of my CCIE from beginning to end.  In return, I agreed in principle to stay with them for a period of time and not seek employment from anyone else.  There was no agreement in place.  There was no contract.  Just a handshake.  Even after I left to go work with Gestalt IT, my number is locked to them for the next year.  This doesn’t really bother me.  It does make them feel better about moving to a competitor.  What would happen if I could move my number freely to the next business without penalty?

Could you imagine a world where CCIEs were being paid top dollar to work at a company not for their knowledge but because it was cheaper to buy CCIEs that it was to build them?  Think of a sports team that doesn’t have a good minor league system but instead buys their talent for absurd amounts of money.  If you had pictures of the New York Yankees in your head, you probably aren’t far removed from my line of thinking.  When the only value of a CCIE is associating the number to your company then you’ve missed the whole point of the program.

CCIEs are more valuable than their number.  With the exception of the Gold/Silver partner status their number is virtually useless.  What is more important is the partner specializations they can bring it.  My CCIE was pointless to my old employer since I was the only one.  What was a greater boon was all the partner certifications that I brought for unified communications, UCS implementation, and even project management.  Those certifications aren’t bound to a company.  In fact, I would probably be more marketable by going to a small partner with one CCIE or going to a silver partner with 3 CCIEs and telling them that I can bring in new lines of partner business while they are waiting for my number to clear escrow.  The smart partners will realize the advantage and hire me on and wait.  Only an impatient partner that wants to build a gold-level practice today would want to avoid number lock-in.

I don’t think we need to worry about removing the CCIE association restriction right now.  It serves to entice partners to fund CCIEs without worrying about them moving on as soon as they get certified.  Termination results in the number being freed up upon mutual agreement.  Most CCIEs that I’ve heard of that left their jobs soon after certification did it because their company told them they can’t afford to pay a CCIE.  Forcing small employers to let CCIEs walk away to bigger competitors with no penalty will prevent them from funding any more CCIE training.  They’ll say, “If the big partners want CCIEs so badly that they’ll pay bounties then let the big partners do all the training too.”  I don’t even think an employer non-compete would fix the issue as those aren’t enforceable in many states.  I think the program exists the way it does for a reason.  With all due deference to Eman and Paul, I don’t think we’ve reached the point where CCIE free agency is ready for prime time.

11 thoughts on “Poaching CCIEs

  1. I think the fear that a company may have of funding any certification\training and the recipient moving on should not be addressed by external forces, such as company associations staying in place for a year, but should be dealt with internally.

    I’ve seen companies where you can go and get your VCP, at a cost of £3000+ to the company for the course, plus the exam costs, travel costs, expenses and lost productivity to the company from you being out of the office and they make you sign a clause saying you will stay at the company for the next 12 months, else pay back some of those costs pro rated based on how far after achieving them you leave.

    This ‘golden handcuffs’ approach has always seemed reasonable to me. The company is investing in me, so I should reciprocate. And if that great opportunity does come along, then you can start negotiations with your prospective employer about them paying the get out clause fees, if they really want you or soak it up yourself.

    If you are looking to move on however, then don’t accept company sponsored training. That is what I call freeloading. If, with the above caveats in place, you still have staff leaving after they get certified, then you possibly have other issues you need to be looking at.

    Finally, if I am a potential customer of your company, I expect that any partnerships you have in place are current and still valid based on the requirements that allowed you to achieve them e.g. I am giving you business based on the fact you have CCIEs in place right now. I’m not interested if you had some several months ago or even yesterday. I am giving you business because I believe you still have that skill set in house.

    Does this all sound reasonable?

  2. Tom,

    I see no issues with your suggestion, as it relates to newly minted CCIEs. The more interesting aspect of this is for the old-timers who earned their CCIE certification many years (and many employers) ago. I earned my CCIE cert in 1998, and have changed employers three times since. If I hire on at a Gold partner, there was no direct cost incurred by my new employer for my CCIE certification. You will be in this situation yourself if/when you move on from Gestalt IT (btw, good luck with the new job!).

    The suggestion that makes the most sense in this situation is to negotiate an early release of the CCIE number upon termination during the hiring phase. This is tricky, since it makes the candidate a less desirable hire than another CCIE who does not insist on such a provision. That said, CCIEs are not interchangeable. We all bring our own strengths/weaknesses to a company. Once you are selected as the hiring target, the power in the negotiation shifts slightly toward your side. If you are considering a position where the employer is ONLY interested in the benefits your certifications bring to them, it probably isn’t a very good job. If you do take such a job be prepared to be let go as soon as a cheaper CCIE is available (another team member earns their CCIE, etc).

    A secondary issue is candidate self-funding of his/her CCIE certification, although that implies to me that the candidate’s employer derives no benefit from the certification (not a partner, etc). Otherwise that employee is likely in a bad situation (where their employer is insisting they get their CCIE, but is providing no assistance in the pursuit).


  3. Well from Paul’s perspective, he was wondering why it was in Ciscos policy. As in your case it was a “gentlemans” agreement that you would stay for x amount of time.

    Personally I agree with Paul. This should be something between my employer and myself. If they pay the costs for me to get my CCIE, I can agree to stay for a year to recoup that investment.

    The problem comes from when you lay for it yourself, or you go beyond the agreed upon time. I I agree to stay for 12 months, and 36 months later I leave, I’ve “repayed” my employer. Why should they keep the benefits of having my number if I’m no longer there?

    Now that being said, yes if you are doing a company bounce, then I could see locking it in, but not just on general principle.

    My 2 cents

  4. I’m of the opinion that 3-6 month’s should be a fair period of time to bring a replacement up to speed your number should be free and clear I think a grace period is stupid within today’s job market sphere..

    tying you to a company after your employment ceases for which ever reason it rather silly I think a new policy should be reducing your responsibility to that company because it is a rort, if your creds are still being used to purchase things whilst you nolonger work there it make liable for the gear and support until the end of the 1 year grace period,

    and damages you in the long run if something goes pear shaped whilst out of your control…

    review of 1 year policy is mandatory as I expect abuse in the industry.. keeping your ID in place for a year is legal minefield for you as well as the company in question..

  5. Interesting insight. I can see both sides of the coin. As you’ve stated, the partners like some assurance that they don’t lose the “credit” for the CCIE immediately. As you probably know, the grace period when you do lose a necessary cert (career or partner specialization cert) before it impacts your partner status is very short and with CCIEs being “relatively” few in number the prospect of a partner having only 30 days to replace one is understandably concerning. From the employee side,

    I think the concern is that a CCIE that was at a partner, moving to a different partner, could be at a disadvantage compared to a CCIE who is applying for the same job coming from an end-customer or somewhere else that wasn’t “using” the number for partner status. If the hiring partner is only concerned about getting the CCIE on the books for partner status, the one whose number won’t be usable for a year has a longer ROI. I certainly hope that most employers are much more concerned with a candidates abilities, personality, and value to a team beyond just getting their CCIE number for the partner portal. After all, if that’s all they care about will your employment with them really be valued and meaningful?

    Maybe the policy is intended as recourse for the partner against newly minted CCIEs who renege on the handshake agreement that so many of us agreed to when starting the journey. But in that case, having an established mechanism to release the number quickly when an employee leaves under good terms should be available.

    A small piece of me also wonders if the policy isn’t just driven by the partner tracking tools. Since a CCIE can’t be associated with more than one company (to prevent unscrupulous CCIEs from “renting” their number out), perhaps Cisco’s tools for tracking CCIE/partner associations just won’t let those updates happen anytime other than the partner’s anniversary or something. Perhaps the waiting period is just a garbage collection interval…

    Great post, Tom!

  6. Main reason I don’t believe in lock-ins for a year for the the simple shit can change in the industry within 3-6 month’s making which every certs you sit practically useless..
    and you end up in shackles the longer your ID sits this slumber..

    in a tech support industry 90-180 days is a fair price whilst you bring the new tech up to speed ofter that your ccie and any other ID you got credit for whilst under their employment, after that your rolll and ID should cease with that company, as that 1 year tenure can make you liable 7 years after the fact once accounts catch up with you,,, treat your ccie as it were a tax document, anything that ccie ID can be used for can be abused whilst our not there..

    doesn’t matter of the service rating that the company has got, you risk yourself and your cred if something goes wrong within a fixed time period which can come back to bight your fair in the arse when you least expect it too..

  7. generally people don’t usually jump ship after getting a cert..

    this issue stems from out of service contract, your creds shouldn’t tied into a co a year after you cease employment with the business..

    you are a service operator your 1st year after cert usually fixes any issues gaining said cert..

    you’re in gainful employment is terminated customary 3-6 month’s should suffice as backup support with pay, after that then the next person steps in..

    treat yourself as if you were a pc technician, backup for 90-180 days, after that you wash your hands of it, 12 month’s is now unrealistic within the job market, you as the service provider you should know this, this tie up for 12 month’s can harm you if the client is using your creds to buy stuff without your physical knowledge, not sure what the tax laws states in the US/UK though here in Australia it is still 7-10 years you must your financials including purchases, with your ccie ID attached to that Co makes you liable for any purchases made within that 12 month period even if you left that company to a better job…

    someone doing an audit x amount of years after comes in with a bogs order or ten whether you signed for it or not if your ID is plastered on the purchase order you could be in a lot of strife..

    I’m an anal person when it comes my paperwork whether it certs or something of personal nature, I don’t leave stuff in custody of others when misuse can happen without my knowledge, I’d be stuffed if I let a company hold me certs or other personal documents for a year when i nolonger work that company..

    If I was offering after hours type support after I left through migration this would only be 3-6 month’s at a second service contract, the year creds are with held stops you from working or locks you in to that company for no solemn reason..

    If I tried to do that as an employer here in Australia i’d be in shits creek without a paddle, the accc and industrial relations would be fining me for that stunt..

    I don’t mind if a company pays for the certs, whilst I work for them though I’d be damned if i’d let them hold the cert in moratorium for a year after i left their service..
    In business learn to trust no-one it is the quickest way to get burned..

    CCIE or any other cert that Co can pay for, can hold all your documents regarding those certs for a year or more if they so wish to do so, doesn’t matter of rating that company has either, if they can with-hold 1 cert for a year how many other certs can the with-hold from you when they have a vendor backing like sun, cloud, cisco, juniper, HP, NETGEAR, asus, tp-link, and any other hardware vendor you can think of and and any other subnetworks you may have certs in.. it just isn’t lan/wlan/wan anymore..

    everything will be integrated within the next 10-15 years, what you currently see in business will start funneling down to us joe blogs in suburbia land…

    their will start to be a blur large scale business and what will be present within the home once fibre becomes the dominate force for telecommunications…

  8. What if we pay to train all these people and they leave?

    A wise man answers…What if we don’t train them and they all stay?

  9. LAZARUS POST :: Admittedly a month late posting this comment, as I was just catching-up on posts. But an important topic.

    Scenario 1: Company agrees to pay for all of would-be CCIE’s journey: testing fees, books, classes (online or in person), rack rentals or supply lab equipment, etc., either in part or in full. In return, candidate agrees to remain at Company for X months at X salary and associate their impending CCIE number, once obtained, for at least that duration. A contract is drafted to formalize this agreement, and it is executed by both the CCIE and authorized management of Company. If Cisco wants to help in that regard, have Cisco’s General Counsel template such a contract and offer it to Partners as a download. There could also be a predetermined monetary buy-out figure considered as damages if default of the terms occurs. –Bases covered.

    Scenario 2: Candidate pays for everything on their own. Thus, they owe their current employer no claim to something which they rightfully obtained on their own time and dime. If the CCIE decides to associate their number to the partner, it is of their own volition, and not out of some erroneous claim to right. It should therefore be free to transfer as the CCIE deems appropriate. It would, however, seem reasonable to have some policy in place which still discourages serial jumping from partner to partner by limiting reassociating to say 4 times per year per CCIE, and would simultaneously keep the admin overhead on Cisco low.

    Stated differently, any claim to retention of the CCIEs number should be enforced by an agreement between the parties, not by a seemingly ridiculous policy on the part of Cisco.

    It would work well to have it take 30 days, and would play out as follows:

    –Day 0: CCIE number reassociation request sent to Cisco by ‘new partner’.
    –Day 1: Cisco receives and acknowledges request to requester and to CCIE.
    –Day 2-8: CCIE has 7 days to reply with a ‘Yes, I wish to reassociate my number’ acknowledgement.
    + If affirmative acknowledgement received, go to next step.
    + If no acknowledgement (timeout/dead timer) or negative acknowledgement received,
    ‘new partner’ receives reply stating that the CCIE does not wish to associate their number
    to them and their request is denied.
    Currently associated partner is not yet aware of any such request, thus allowing CCIE
    to save face and avoid any retaliatory action or conflict arising from such a request, which
    was no fault of their own.
    –Day 9-29: Upon receipt of affirmative acknowledgement from CCIE, Cisco sends email to current partner, who now has 21 days to either produce evidentiary support (agreement contract) to enforce their claim to retention, reply with a ‘no objection’ statement immediately freeing the number, or in case of a timeout (no reply within 21 days) the default action is effectively a ‘no objection’ and the process moves ahead. Consistent reminders are sent to current partner at intervals, much like an open ‘Customer Pending” TAC case, requesting follow-up on the open issue.
    –Day 30: Number is now associated to ‘new partner’. There is no so-called ‘cooling-off period’. The current partner has hereafter waived right to reclaim the CCIE number without submitting their own reassociation request to Cisco.

    In conclusion, the practice of Cisco holding a CCIE’s hard-earned number to a partner against the CCIE’s will is a draconian practice which should cease. Employment contracts or agreements between CCIE and partner should dictate the meeting of the minds. If Cisco adopted a scheme similar to the one aforementioned, then they will have done their part to maintain the integrity of the CCIE program, whilst protecting the interests of both the CCIE and the partners.

  10. I have not read through all of the posts here, but the situation I ran into was as follows. My company was acquired by a group that did not really understand what we did. They eventually mismanaged the company to the point they sold it for a massive loss.

    Anyway, while my peers at other Cisco partners in my region were getting pay raises and bonuses, at my company we were taking pay cuts and having to take additional unpaid time off. I tried to find other employment but was being low-balled salary wise because some of the companies I interviewed with (and were willing to extend me an offer) would not be able to recognize the benefits of my CCIE certification for one year.

    In my case, not only did I have my CCIE certification when I was hired, but also before the new entity purchased the company that I was originally hired by. To a degree I was being held hostage due to this policy. I contacted Cisco and spoke to different people in the certification program and explained the situation. I was told there was nothing they would do to assist me. Basically take a lower paying job or keep plugging away until I eventually found something I could live with.

    I have always had pride in the CCIE certification that I earned. Still do. However, although I see the benefits of the wait period overall. like many things I don’t believe this policy should be carved in stone. There are gray areas and Cisco should be open to that fact and allow for exceptions when warranted.

    Anyway eventually I did find another position but I probably lost ~ 30k in wages waiting to find my next opportunity due to no fault of my own.

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